NASA telescope finds 10 more planets that could have life

Mandy Carr
June 20, 2017

The exoplanets represented in this newly updated catalogue include all of those detected - candidates and confirmed planets - while Kepler was aimed at the constellation Cygnus, and stared down the length of the Orion Spur, the small arm of the Milky Way Galaxy where Earth's solar system resides.

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In February, NASA announced the discovery of seven new planets that "could have liquid water - key to life as we know it - under the right atmospheric conditions".

Fans of the Drake Equation can rejoice, because NASA just announced that the Kepler spacecraft, which has been scanning the stars to find more exoplanets, has discovered 1,284 new planets, which NASA calls "the single largest finding of planets to date".

Mario Perez, a Kepler programme scientist at Nasa, stressed the importance of the space telescope. "It's the closest to Earth in size and orbit", said Mullally, "but there is still a lot we don't know about this planet".

This artist's vision shows what a Kepler exoplanet might look like.

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Although the Kepler mission has yet to fulfill one of its goals, which is determining the fraction of sun-like stars hosting Earth-like planets in our galaxy, these data will help astronomers determine that number in the next few years, the researchers said. "This has implications in the search for life", Fulton said. Of Kepler's list of more than 4000 likely candidates from those observations, 2335 have been verified as exoplanets with further analysis or other ground-based observations. But those 10 were joined by an additional 209 more garden-variety planets that are unlikely to be hospitable to life because they are too gassy, too hot, too cold or otherwise unlike the only known planet to host life: Earth.

This is the eighth release of the Kepler candidate catalog, gathered by reprocessing the entire set of data from Kepler's observations during the first four years of its primary mission.

Kepler habitable zone planet candidates, plotted by temperature of star and energy received from its star.

"KOI" stands for "Kepler object of interest".

So to fix this, the Kepler team simulated their own positive and false signals of planet transits and compared them to the actual data from the mission. "I'm really excited to see what people will do with this catalog", Susan Mullally, a Kepler research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, told a press conference today during the Kepler & K2 Science Conference at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View.

NASA is categorising the two "types" as "super-Earths" and "mini-Neptunes". For reasons scientists don't yet understand, about half of those planets take on a small amount of hydrogen and helium that dramatically swells their size, allowing them to "jump the gap" and join the population closer to Neptune's size. He likened the discovery to realizing that mammals and reptiles are on separate branches of the evolutionary tree.

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